Vic Bystrom, Socialist Educator
By Richard Fidler
Vic Bystrom, a pioneer of the Trotskyist movement on the Prairies, died suddenly of a heart attack February 27 in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. He was 63 years old.
Vic never belonged to an active branch of the Revolutionary Workers League or its predecessor organizations. But he was among our most committed and loyal comrades for more than 40 years.
A good number of persons were won to revolutionary Marxism through talking to Vic. Many others across the country knew him as a comrade. A visit with Vic and the other comrades in Lloydminster was always a highlight of the tours we carried out each year during the late 1950s and 1960s. We treasured Vicís keen interest in our movement and its activities. We enjoyed his tremendous sense of humor. And if we were lucky, we might even be treated to a "concert" by this excellent fiddle player.
When I and other young comrades settled in Edmonton in 1966 and began to build a branch of the League for Socialist Action, Vic was a valuable source of advice and encouragement.
Vic first came around the revolutionary movement as a young man, when he came in contact with a group of Trotskyists in Streamstown, a farming community not far from Lloydminster. The group had formed under the leadership of Joe Burki, a farmer who had been expelled from the Communist Party in 1935 for requesting a discussion on the platform of the Left Opposition led by Leon Trotsky.
During the Second World War, Vic as a conscientious objector on political grounds, served his stint in the army, talking up socialism with his fellow soldiers, lugging revolutionary Marxist literature around in his army gear.
Following the war he obtained some land under a veteransí settlement grant and gradually built up a two-section farm while working shifts at an oil refinery in Lloydminster.
During the 1950s Vic led the workers at the Excelsior refinery in organizing a union. He was an active militant in the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union until the plant went bankrupt in the late 1950s. He then decided to farm full time.
Maria Fischer, a sympathizer of the RWL now living in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, was one of those won to socialism by Vic, as were her son Ullrich and daughter Heidi. "Vic was our mentor," she told me recently, "For us he started it all.
"Vicís way of educating us politically was to bring to our house all the publications with a Marxist perspective ó the Vanguard (forerunner of Socialist Voice), the Militant, World Outlook and Intercontinental Press, the International Socialist Review, Monthly Review, pamphlets, and books. We would use these to discuss daily events, local, provincial, national, and international:
"We, listened together on his shortwave radio to Radio Rebelde Cuba each night that was possible.
"Vicís way of expressing his commitment to the class struggle was to spread the idea, get people to read and think for themselves.... He was always willing to talk with anybody about the historical necessity to defeat the capitalist system. He was always very patient. He was satisfied if he helped to change someoneís understanding of the class struggle.
"Vic was very proud when we started the Edmonton branch in 1966, and when the Saskatoon branch was established in 1970. At last Trotskyism had begun to gain et foothold on the Prairies, for the first time since the Left Opposition groups in Saskatoon and Streamstown in the thirties."
Vic stayed on top of international developments. In a letter to Maria Fischer in February only two weeks before his death, he spoke with enthusiasm of the revolutionary upsurge in Iran, and expressed sorrow at news of the death of the international Trotskyist leader Joseph Hansen, "my favorite writer of the past 40 years along with Cannon." (James P. Cannon was the founder of the Trotskyist movement in the United States.)
Vic was for many years a strong financial contributor to the Trotskyist movement. He lived simply, even frugally, spending his money on the movement and on books and other literature.
"He helped out wherever he could, with whatever," says Maria. "He always disapproved of sentimentality. But may well be said just once: without Vic in our lives, we would not be what we are."
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All